Chinese cities are plagued by the rise in resource and energy input and output over the last decade. At the same time, the scale and pace of economic development sweeping across Chinese cities have revived the debate about urban metabolisms, which could be simply seen as the ratio of output to resource and energy input in urban systems. In this study, an emergy (meaning the equivalent solar energy) accounting, sustainable indices of urban metabolisms, and an urban metabolic system dynamics model, are developed in support of the research task on Chinese cities ‘metabolisms and their related policies. The dynamic simulation model used in the paper is capable of synthesizing component-level knowledge into system behavior simulation at an integrated level, which is directly useful for simulating and evaluating a variety of decision actions and their dynamic consequences. For the study case, interactions among a number of Beijing’s urban emergy components within a time frame of 20 years (from 2010 to 2030) are examined dynamically. Six alternative policy scenarios are implemented into the system simulation. Our results indicate that Beijing’s current model of urban metabolism—tertiary industry oriented development mode—would deliver prosperity to the city. However, the analysis also shows that this mode of urban metabolism would weaken urban self-support capacity due primarily to the large share of imported and exported emergy in the urban metabolic system. The keys of improving the efficiency of urban metabolism include the priority on the renewable resource and energy, increase in environmental investment and encouragement on innovative technologies of resource and energy utilization, et al.
Urban systems, with the overall fluxes of energy, water, material, and wastes, can be modeled with a range of metabolic processes. To quantify the urban metabolism, we use the “emergy” assessment method (all materials and energy are transformed to solar energy equivalents) and then present a group of urban metabolic indicators, which quantify urban metabolic balance, capacity, and outputs to assess a city’s metabolic efficiencies. In this paper, we use 31 Chinese cities as a sample to illustrate how the model can be operated to evaluate the urban metabolism by emergy analysis. Our results indicate that metropolises and coastal cities were more metabolically efficient with higher metabolic balance, capacities, and outputs; but with more external dependency on imported resources. Central and western cities had lower metabolic efficiencies, with a high ratio of non-renewable emergy reliance. Policy implications highlight the need for renewable energy sources and improved management of imported services, goods, and fuels to achieve higher urban resilience and sustainability.
The Harvard-China Project adopted an Open Access policy in September 2017. Most journal articles published henceforth are available in the Harvard University open-access repository, DASH.